Beebalm Flower

The Complete Growing Beebalm Guide

Growing Beebalm is a highly rewarding experience. The plant is beautiful, aromatic, edible and adds a lively feeling to any garden. I’ve grown Beebalm for several years now and I just love growing Beebalm. This article is a complete guide, everything you need to know to grow Beebalm in your garden.

Name(s) of Plant

Monarda didyma, Beebalm, Bee Balm, Bergamot (not to be confused with Bergamot Orange from Italy)

Family

Lamiaceae.  This family of plants is also known as the sage, deadnettle or mint family.  The majority of its members are aromatic, flowering plants. Many of these have culinary or medicinal uses.  This family includes such everyday kitchen heroes as oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, and even lavender makes the list.

Type of Plant

Flowering perennial, annual, biennial

M.didyma Flower Color Variations

  • Moderate red blossoms * aka Adam
  • Ivory blossoms * aka Alba
  • Violet-purple blossoms * aka Blue Stocking
  • Bright red blossoms * aka Cambridge Scarlet
  • Clear rosy pink blossoms * aka Croftway Pink
  • Deep red blossoms * aka Mahogany
  • Pale pink blossom * aka Melissa
  • Lavender blossoms * aka Pale Ponticum
  • Bright red blossoms * aka Pillar Box
  • White blossoms * aka Snow Maiden

Close Relatives

  • Monarda citriodora * pink-purple blossoms * strong lemon scent * good in tea
  • Monarda fistulosa * lavender blossoms * strong fragrance
A beautiful Beebalm flower head.
Beautiful Beebalm Flower

Plant Origin

Bee balm, a.k.a. Beebalm, also known as Bergamot, is Native to North America.  However, it has also been exported for growth in Europe and other parts of the world since it’s discovery.  Originally it was used by Native Americans for a variety of medicinal and culinary purposes.

Flower Color

Pink, Purple, Red, White, Lavender

Blooming

Beebalm is a summer-flowering plant, from late June – September.  The flowers are anywhere from white to red to purple, depending on the variation.  As you can see in the picture, the flowers are reminiscent of exploding balls of color.  They are quite beautiful. The plant has multiple blooms throughout the summer months.

Description

Beebalm photo by Jeremy Shantz
Beebalm photo by Jeremy Shantz

Beebalm is another name for a type of mint called Bergamot.  This group of rugged mints has course-edged leaves and large flowerheads.  The leaves grow with a pronounced dark and deep green coloration. They are opposite in stem position and have an oval shape with small serrated edging.

The flowers grow in whorls at the end of the stem.  These tend to cluster on the top ends of the square stalks of the plant.  The flowers range from white to red to purple, depending on the variation.

The plant grows into small bush-like groupings that range from 6-24” in height.  However, the wild version of Bergamot found across North America can grow as tall as 3-4 feet tall.  And the plant is a perennial so it returns year after year. However, the plant can also act as an annual or even biennial.  

Growing Beebalm Basics

Growing Bee Balm is a fantastic and rewarding gardening experience.  The beautiful flowers are a favorite of bumblebees, birds, and butterflies.  This makes your garden come to life with beautiful visitors. Bee balm encourages a good, healthy garden eco-system that benefits all your plants.  Think of bee balm as a support plant to the health of your garden.

Growing Beebalm Specifications:

Soil pH

Slightly acidic to neutral pH.  

Soil Type

Loamy (clay, sand, and humus mix)

Light

Full sun is preferred.  Will tolerate a small amount of shade

Watering

Beebalm likes a medium watering schedule.  It does not do too well in either overly wet or overly dry conditions.  The plant is relatively hardy though and can take a certain amount of over-watering or a dry spell, as long as either doesn’t last for too long.

Pests/Diseases

Bee balm is prone to powdery mildew growth on the foliage.  This can occur when the humidity is too high. Should you see this, let the soil dry out for a few days and reduce watering frequency.

Beebalm with a bee on the flower
A Bumble Bee Visits A Bergamot Flower

History

Beebalm has been used for likely hundreds of years by Native Americans along the east coast of North America.  The people who lived in the area that is now Otsego, New York (about halfway between Syracuse, NY and Albany, NY) were the ones who shared their knowledge of the plants use in tea to early settlers.  These settlers started brewing the tea themselves. The tea became quite popular at the time. It was even used as a substitute for black tea during the Boston Tea Party of 1773.  

During the 1700s, settlers sent Beebalm seeds back to Europe to be cultivated there as well.  The plant made its way around the European continent and was also known in Europe as Indian Nettle and Golden Melissa.  

Plant Uses:

Aesthetic

As a flower added to the garden, beebalm is a supportive flowering garden plant as mentioned earlier.  The beautiful flowers attract many creatures to the garden giving the feel of a healthy and thriving garden eco-system.  The plant does exceptionally well at attracting bees which help pollinate your garden. This makes this beautiful plant not only a gem to look at during the summer month blooms, but also a helpful addition to the overall health of any garden.

Culinary

Bergamot tea is a wonderfully fragrant and elegant herbal tea.  The plant can be used to flavor cold drinks like lemonade and punches as well.  The tea is its best-known use though.  

Beebalm has a delicate taste which is reminiscent of citrus.  The flavor has subtle hints of orange and lemon. Besides using it for drinks, there are multiple other uses for Beebalm.  The leaves can be used to season salads, chilis, and salsas. The flowers can be used to decorate any dish where a fragrant citrus-like scent will work and they are completely edible so using the flowers as a garnish is fine.

Medicinal

Bergamot was traditionally used as a treatment by the Native Americans for a variety of ailments.  The most common is a tea made of the leaves to treat indigestion, flatulence, intestinal infections, mouth and gum infections and also as a poultice to treat wounds.  Bee balm has thymol in it which is a great anti-bacterial. It is even the active ingredient in many commercially prepared mouthwash.  

Beebalm has also been used to treat coughs, nausea, sore throats, flatulence, and menstrual cramps.  Although there does not appear to be any medical trials or studies that provide evidence of the effectiveness, the tea is delicious so it really can’t hurt. And growing Beebalm is really rewarding so it’s a win/win.

Did You Know That? 

When the Boston Tea Party occurred, instead of drinking black tea that wound up being tossed in the water, the locals drank Bergamot tea aka Oswego tea instead.

My Experience With Growing Beebalm

Beebalm photo by Jeremy Shantz
Beebalm photo by Jeremy Shantz

Last year my wife and I bought a house and we picked up 4 small beebalm plants from a local gardening store.  The plants were not flowering yet as I believe it was early June. I planted 2 plants in my front yard, which gets sun all morning and until about 2 pm in the afternoon.  After that, the garden out front is in shade.  

I planted the other 2 Beebalm in my backyard.  You can see these in my video Farmer Jer’s Backyard Gardens.  The back flower bed gets sun from about 10 am until about an hour or so before sundown.

Planting Beebalm

All four Beebalms were planted in generic flower garden potting soil.  Nothing fancy. I added about 10% peat moss to the mix as well. I dug up about 5-6” of the existing soil and mixed it 50/50 with the potting/peat mix I made.  The soil around my house is very heavy with clay. Dig down about 2’ and you need a pickaxe. That’s how much clay is in this soil. A lot of clay.

The Beebalm grew about double in size the first summer.  All four plants survived an overly nasty winter, with snow 3’ deep at times.  This spring all 4 plants emerged and drew very well all summer long. They produced bloom after bloom, until late September.  This was when one of the plants in the front yard died seemingly overnight. The other 3 are still very much alive and appear to be quite healthy.  

I do not yet know why one of the plants died.  I examined the plant and it just looks like it dried out and withered away.  The strange thing is that there has been a lot of rain, and I water the garden whenever the soil got really dry.  Not only that, but all my other plants in the same bed are doing great. Garden mystery I suppose.  

Growing Beebalm Guide Bibliography:

  1. The Old Farmer’s Almanac – https://almanac.com/plant/bee-balm
  2. The Medicinal Herb Gardens at ONU – https://webstu.onu.edu/garden/node/309
  3. Rodale’s Illustrated Encylopedia of Herbs, Rodale Press Inc., 1987
  4. Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monarda
  5. Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lamiaceae
  6. History.com – https://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/boston-tea-party

Don’t forget to check out my video to see Beebalm in action.

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